Pubdate: Sat, 24 May 2003
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell, Staff Reporter
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


International Investigation Netted Huge Cocaine Shipment

But It's Unlikely To Make A Major Dent In A Colossal Trade

RCMP Detective Inspector Ron Allen pushes a copper-coated coin across his desk.

On one side is an imprint of the U.S. naval destroyer that on May 15, at 5 
a.m., ended the journey of the Sin Rumbo, a 52-foot, Canadian-registered 
yacht packed with 1.5 tonnes of cocaine that police say was destined for 
the streets of Vancouver, Halifax and Toronto.

The coin is a souvenir of an 18-month investigation that involved the kind 
of "stuff that movies are made of," says Allen, the officer in charge of 
RCMP drug enforcement for the GTA.

Details remain to be filled in, but what police allege so far sounds like 
the Hollywood-worthy elements are there: organized crime, international 
intrigue, undercover Mounties, a high-seas takedown and Colombia, the 
premier producer and global exporter of cocaine and the main supplier of 
coke sold across Canada.

Maybe the most un-cinematic ingredient was the names and ages of the 
accused: five middle-aged Toronto-area men, all arrested at their homes 
early Wednesday without incident. Harold Brown, 51, of Bolton, James Frost, 
50, of Toronto, John Thompson, 50, of Caledon East, Murray MacDowell, 57, 
of Oakville, and Martin Donnelly, 42, of Burlington, are all charged with 
conspiracy to import a controlled substance.

Vancouver resident Wesley Trimble, 52, captain of the Sin Rumbo, and two 
people from Colombia face charges, in addition to Victoria, B.C., resident 
Ryan Place, who will be brought here to face charges.

Toronto fraud squad detectives laid further charges against MacDowell on 
Thursday in what they are calling a "brokerage account takeover."

Police allege that someone impersonated an account holder at a Toronto 
brokerage firm and arranged for the $1.9 million securities account to be 
transferred to another securities firm. It's alleged he then instructed the 
new firm to liquidate and wire the funds offshore.

The Mountie investigation leading to the cocaine bust began 18 months ago.

That was when officers learned of a group of people raising money from the 
criminal underworld to buy a large amount of cocaine from a Colombian drug 

While there's a perception that cocaine use peaked in the '80s -- replaced, 
especially among young drug users, by ecstasy and amphetamines -- people 
from all walks of life continue to use coke.

"There's a lot of people out there who want cocaine -- from those people 
who cannot afford to buy a rock of crack to the person out there who can 
afford to have the cocaine habit at the executive level," Allen said.

Still, its use in the general population is low. The reported rate in 1998 
among Toronto adults was about 1 per cent. In 1999, 6 per cent of Toronto 
students reported using cocaine, while 2 per cent reported using crack.

Allen says the drug has been marketed "effectively" to ensure there's an 

"Years ago, snorting coke cost $100 gram and you had to have a bit of coin 
to buy it. Back in the late '80s, early '90s, they came up with crack, and 
that's made cocaine available to the guy who has $10 in his pocket."

This week, Allen and his colleagues held a news conference to publicize the 
latest big haul, billed as the fifth-largest cocaine bust in Canadian 
history, worth $136 million. They estimate its value would be closer to 
$400 million when cut and sold on the streets. The Mounties showed a video 
and displayed coloured pictures of the Sin Rumbo and the hotel in 
Puntarenas where smugglers allegedly met to plan their moves.

The Mounties got in on the "ground level," says Allen, so were able to 
gather evidence and identify the "main players," giving police a huge 
advantage, he continues. "A lot of times we find a container or suitcase 
(with drugs) ... we're working backwards, and if you work backwards the 
people who are involved at the very top level have the ability to isolate 
themselves. We know who they are, but we don't have the evidence to bring 
them to court."

He can't discuss the surveillance techniques used during the investigation, 
called Project Outerlimits. But in the past, evidence presented in court 
has shown law enforcement officials rely on methods such as wiretapping and 
physical surveillance to nab their suspects.

"We try to protect those techniques that are tried and proven in the past, 
so that we can utilize them again," he says during an interview in his 
office in Milton.

"If we had to go out there each time we do an investigation and develop a 
new set of techniques, it comes at a cost and a cost to Canadian taxpayers."

He does say the RCMP spent about $2 million on the investigation, not 
including salaries, and suggests such investigations are in peril unless 
more funding is set aside. Some 20 officers were involved, some of them 
required to travel extensively, including going undercover in Central and 
South America in areas where police have been killed by drug traffickers. 
The RCMP worked with agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 
the Department of Administrative Security in Colombia, the Judicial 
Investigation Organization in Costa Rica and the Federal Investigation 
Agency in Mexico.

Their investigation led them to the Sin Rumbo, moored in a secluded cove 
off the western coast of Coast Rica. Then, nine days ago, high-powered 
speedboats from Colombia carried the cocaine cargo out to the Canadian 
vessel. The RCMP allege the Sin Rumbo was headed for Vancouver, where the 
drugs would be transported by rail to other parts of Canada. Halifax, 
Vancouver and Montreal are the three major ports of entry for illicit drugs 
into Canada, says Allen.

But the journey was thwarted after the U.S. destroyer closed in on the 
yacht last week off the Pacific coast. The drugs were removed and the 
hapless vessel, it turned out, was sinking. Rather than towing it to 
Vancouver, authorities shot it full of .50-calibre rounds to finish the job.

While the RCMP wanted to call attention to the seizure, Allen is wary of 
overestimating its impact.

"I guess it's like any other business," he says with a sigh. "When somebody 
falters, when somebody goes bankrupt, when someone goes out of business, 
there's always someone there to pick up the gap."

Nor does Allen, who supported needle exchange programs when he worked in 
Cape Breton during the mid-'90s, say this is part of a war on drugs, though 
"perhaps when Nancy Reagan came up with the term it may have been appropriate."

He believes law enforcement agencies instead are engaged in individual 
battles. "You try to win those battles and move on, and that's the way 
we're going to make headway into the whole drug problem." And that has to 
involve "many different agencies ... from the enforcement side to the 
school system to health to rehabilitation."

However, Allen says he has a "very simple solution" to eradicate the drug 
smuggling, trafficking and all the crime that results. "If no one demands 
drugs, then there's no reason to supply the drugs."
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